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The boys basketball season featured plenty of fun and exicting action. Here are the Rantoul Press awards.
PLAYER OF THE YEAR
WHY HE WAS CHOSEN: Gibson won Player of the Year, barely nudging out teammate Kevin Williams and Fisher’s Zach Griffith. The senior point guard didn’t miss a single game, hardly sat out in those games and often guarded one of the opponent’s best guards, which all earned him team MVP honors in addition to a unanimous All-Okaw Valley Conference first team accolade. He was the Eagles’ clear-cut leader on the floor. When he struggled the most, so did the team. And when he was out of the game, Rantoul seemed a bit lost and its offense got helter skelter. Along with Coach of the Year, the POY award was the hardest one to choose. Gibson and Williams were neck-and-neck, but Gibson earned it by a hair because of leadership and more longevity. Williams fought foul trouble too often. Griffith was a terrific choice, too, but came in a close third.
RUNNER-UP: Kevin Williams
COACH OF THE YEAR
WHY HE WAS CHOSEN: A pair of historic seasons made this another tight race between Rantoul's Brett Frerichs and Fisher's Diskin. When you set team goals and are not bashful about them, that shows some honesty and guts. The fact that Diskin led the Bunnies to all three goals (appearance at the Shirk Center, win 20 games, win a regional championship) is what gives him the nod here. The Bunnies could have folded after a devastating 70-69 loss to LeRoy in the Heart of Illinois Conference tournament, and Diskin was the most discouraged this season following that game, but they regrouped and destroyed teams down the stretch. The Bunnies won 20 games for just the third time in school history (and first time since 1988) and won the program's first regional title since 2012. Getting within a game-tying 3-pointer to force overtime against the No. 1 Class 1A team in the state, Ridgeview, that advanced to the Elite Eight gave Diskin another edge over Frerichs. Diskin also led Fisher to a 65-51 upset on the road over the Mustangs in early January — it was one of just two teams in the state to beat Ridgeview. Frerichs navigated a difficult season in which the Eagles sustained a major injury to Kevonte Williams and dealt with suspensions and other problems. He deserves a lot of credit for leading Rantoul to the school's first back-to-back 20-win seasons since 1964 that included a second straight undefeated Okaw Valley Conference championship. And all of the great ideas he came up with (playing at the Hoosier Gym and the school's first-ever Hall of Fame Game among others) did not go unnoticed. But that early postseason exit really stings. If the Eagles had fallen to a team more talented than themselves that would be one thing, but Mahomet-Seymour was not the better team.
RUNNER-UP: Brett Frerichs
DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR
WHY HE WAS CHOSEN: Johnson came out of nowhere to shine for the Eagles. Rantoul’s core four of Duck Gibson, Onycai Lawson and Kevin and Kevonte Williams was well known to start the season, but with Kevonte being injured most of the year and Lawson getting banged up late, Johnson stepped up to the plate. The junior guard was the team’s spark plug early on and was the best on-ball defender for the Eagles. While he missed some games due to disciplinary issues, Johnson nevertheless showed plenty of promise and won the team’s most improved award. If he stays on the court, it will be fun to watch Johnson's growth next season. Ethan McCoy was a bulldog for Fisher.
RUNNER-UP: Ethan McCoy
MOST IMPROVED PLAYER OF THE YEAR
WHY HE WAS CHOSEN: Johnson was given the team's most improved award, which was also deserving. He came out of nowhere from the start of the year, but Hudson came out of nowhere in the middle of the season. At the beginning of the year, there was a consensus that Johnson would probably start eventually, but Hudson was barely a blip on the radar. The junior guard shined late in the season with a 17-point performance Jan. 31 against St. Thomas More in which he drilled a handful of shots. But his best performance came Feb. 10 against St. Joseph-Ogden in which he was absolutely phenomenal. Hudson torched the nets on a perfect 6-of-6 shooting —all in the second half — including a 45-foot banked-in shot at the third-quarter buzzer. The Eagles needed every single one of those huge points off the bench in a 64-62 win that secured their second consecutive Okaw Valley Conference title. Cale Zook for Fisher was a beast down low for much of the season, consistently putting up double figures and often grabbing double-digit rebounds.
RUNNER-UP: Cale Zook
RANTOUL PRESS ALL-AREA BOYS BASKETBALL TEAM
WHY HE WAS CHOSEN: See above.
WHY HE WAS CHOSEN: Griffith was the definition of a “do-everything” leader throughout Fisher’s historic 21-10 season. The 6-5 senior could shoot from the perimeter, bang in the post down low, grab boards, toss outlet passes and set up teammates with crisp passes, and, most important, grew substantially as a leader. Griffith, a three-year varsity starter who scored his 1,000th career point this season, knew he would have to step into a more vocal leadership role this season when his older brother, Nick, graduated in 2016. He did exactly that.
WHY HE WAS CHOSEN: See above.
WHY HE WAS CHOSEN: Jones-Watkins was a joy to watch this season as the Bunnies’ floor general from the point guard position. His jump shot, especially from long range, improved from the beginning of the season, and so did his decision-making. He has plenty of quickness and a burst, and perhaps his best shot is a little floater in the lane — something every point guard should have in his or her arsenal. The 5-10 junior has some big shoes to fill next season with the graduation of Griffith, but here’s guessing he’ll be up for the challenge.
WHY HE WAS CHOSEN: Williams was an absolute monster in the back half of the year. The 6-5, 225-pound senior forward was a matchup nightmare for coaches. He was a bull down low in the post, but he also had the ability to take defenders off the bounce, and he made them respect his shooting touch. Without Williams, the Eagles would not have come anywhere close to their 20-9 record and second consecutive Okaw Valley Conference title. That’s what made it such a difficult choice for POY between him and Gibson. Rantoul will obviously miss Williams and his left-handed spinners off the glass.